From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published November 26, 2012 12:52 PM

Initiative Raises Money to Keep Oil Companies out of Ecuador

The Yasuni-ITT Initiative has been called many things: controversial, ecological blackmail, revolutionary, pioneering, and the best chance to keep oil companies out of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. But now, after a number of ups and downs, the program is beginning to make good: the Yasuni-ITT Initiative has raised $300 million, according to the Guardian, or 8 percent of the total amount needed to fully fund the idea.

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The program, which is the first of its kind, proposes to leave an estimated 850 million barrels of oil untouched in Yasuni National Park if donors worldwide compensate Ecuador for about half of the worth of the oil: $3.6 billion. The money would keep oil companies out of 200,000 hectares known as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin (ITT) blocs. The money doesn't go directly to the Ecuador government, but instead to a United Nations Development Fund (UNDF) which will be used to fund green energy projects, conservation initiatives, reforestation programs, and community development. The involvement of the UNDF also adds extra assurances that if the funds are raised, the oil will stay in the ground.

While the $300 million raised is not yet near the full amount requested, it shows significant progress from a year ago when many predicted the Yasuni-ITT Initiative would suffer a quick demise. Ecuador has said it will give the program 13 years for full funding.

Proponents of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative argue that it will preserve one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, keep an estimated 410 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, and protect indigenous people in the reserve. With one sweep, the initiative could help mitigate several of the world's ecological crisis: mass extinction, deforestation, and climate change. However, critics argue that the program is little more than blackmail from Ecuador: as a National Park oil drilling should not be occurring in Yasuni in the first place. Still, Ecuador is not alone in seeking to exploit its national parks. More and more countries worldwide are opening protected areas to fossil fuel extraction as well as mining, logging, and plantations.

If successful, the Yasuni-ITT Initiative could have a major impact on how nations combat both climate change and biodiversity loss in the future. For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently warned that if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, two thirds of the world's fossil fuels must be left in the ground.

Read more at MONGABAY.COM.

Hoatzins in Yasuni National Park image via Shutterstock.

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